Eastham, Cape Cod. August 23, 2008.
Sand squishes between my bare toes, chilling my feet to a pale peach the same color as the clouds.
When the clouds burn with magenta, then it will be time.
“Nothing’s happening, Kieley” sniffs the tall girl by my side. Jenn, with two n’s.
“I told you, they only come out at sunset,” I say, keeping my eyes firmly on the horizon. If I look at Jenn, I might see her teasing smile, her eyes that sparkle with amusement, like this is a game.
I don’t know why I ever told her. She’s not even my friend–just the girl who rents the house next door to ours the same week every summer. The girl who always ran faster and talked louder than me, who beat me at every game we ever played together, which wasn’t very many.
She has dyed highlights in her hair and a boyfriend who came on vacation with them this summer. I have hair the color of wet sand and a baby brother whose favorite pastime is dumping hot baby food in my lap.
But there is one thing I have that she doesn’t–and now I’m about to show her. What was I thinking?
“Maybe we should just head back?” I say.
“No way. You told me there’d be mermaids. Show me the mermaids.”
The first rays of sun skip off the horizon and along the waves. I imagine they are laser beams shooting across ocean, searing my feet with lances of light.
We are alone on the beach, the only ones who dared walk this far down the coast on a night when the weathermen promised rain.
“Hey, where are they? Is this one?” Jenn kicks a piece of faded blue plastic out of its hollow in the sand.
I grit my teeth. “Be quiet. They don’t like loud noises.”
“You’re just saying that.”
Then I see it — a shadow slipping through the waves. My breath catches and I hold out my hand, fingers spread.
“What are you doing?” Jenn squints at me.
The shape flips twice, agile as a seal. A hand comes up out of the water, fingers spread, the sun glinting through translucent webbing like on a frog’s foot.
“She’s waving hello,” I whisper.
“Who?” Jenn has her hands on the hips. “This is ridiculous. I’m going home.”
The mermaid laughs with a sound like dolphin song captured in glass.
I hear her sing-song voice clearly even though the mermaid is at least thirty feet away, bobbing in the restless sea. “She can’t see me because she doesn’t believe.”